Thursday, 18 October 2012

Research File: For your safety and health

People often live in fear of Health and Safety (H&S) regulations quite unnecessarily. The reason it becomes such a confusing issue is not due to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who I have found only too happy to help with any queries you may have. Confusion is due to the policies and edicts of employers in the workplace and their misunderstanding of the whole issue of Health and Safety. There are fewer laws under H&S than your might imagine, but the HSE quite rightly  are very firm about the ones they will enforce. They even have a 'Myth Busters Challenge Panel' to help clarify matters for all parties on their website.

Each work environment has it's own risks, so dependent upon the nature of the business you may find the number of laws that apply may differ from another type of business e.g. the construction industry has much more stringent regulations than an office environment; health care and catering facilities will be different again. It is very much a case of what you do that will determine which areas you will need to be aware of. This accounts for the different versions of the Health and Safety Law poster which all work premises should have on display and adhere to. The alternative to this is to issue ALL staff with copies of the same.

It states quite clearly that although employers are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is safe for staff to work in, staff are to do their bit too. In theory an employee who is the direct cause of their own accident could be sued for it, but I doubt an employer would do so for the sake of their own reputation. Employers have a responsibility to train their staff and to disallow workers undertaking duties which they feel they are not safe doing. Staff have a responsibility to work safely once they have completed training and at all times to report anything which they consider to be a risk or hazard, from slip and trip hazards through to inappropriate use of chemicals, unsafe equipment and faulty electrics to name but a few examples.

Ten essentials for health and safety 

1. Risk Assessment
Regular risk assessments should take place to take into account any changes in your work environment and procedures. It is far easier to monitor and review once a month than to have to do a major assessment once a year and I'd strongly recommended you do so no matter how large or small your enterprise is. 

Assessing the risks in your workplace:
  • Identify the hazards and risks
  • Decide who might be harmed and how
  • Evaluate how dangerous the hazards and risks are and decide on precautions
  • Record your findings and implement plans that result in reducing the risks
  • Review your assessment and update if and when necessary

As outlined below it is best to get thorough training in risk assessment to avoid any costly or dangerous mistakes.

"Using a matrix can be helpful for prioritising your actions to control a risk. It is suitable for many assessments but in particular to more complex situations. However, it does require expertise and experience to judge the likelihood of harm accurately.  Getting this wrong could result in applying unnecessary control measures or failing to take important ones."
risk matrix


2. COSHH - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
Many substances can be hazardous to health e.g. cleaning products, and some require special measures and training for storage and use. All such substances should at least be locked away to avoid misuse and spillages, but further guidance comes from the labels on the products, risk assessment, from training and from information from the HSE.

3. Electrical Safety, including Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) 
As an employer you are obliged to ensure that all electrical equipment is used safely and that permanent electrical installations are well maintained and that they are provided and serviced by an accredited and qualified supplier. Regular inspections are mandatory as is the testing of any and all electrical items that are portable, from cables to table lamps, projectors to microwaves; from curling tongs to laboratory incubators.

4. Gas Safety 
As above for electrical safety - reputable accredited service provider, safe use and regular maintenance regime.

5. Water
The main concern with water is that it is a clean supply and one of the greatest risks is of Legionella so due precautions need to be taken if you have a water supply to your premises at all, especially if you have a water tank on site. Fortunately most precautions are very easy to minimise risks.

6. Fire safety
Your local Fire and Rescue Authority is responsible for enforcing fire safety in the workplace. Fines, closures and imprisonment are all possible and likely for breaches in compliance to fire safety. A separate Fire Safety Risk Assessment is required and it should look for out for sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen supply. Suitable fire extinguishers, evacuation procedures and fire routes properly sign-posted are all mandatory. See for further information.

7. First Aid at Work
Depending on the size of the company and the nature of the work carried out the requirements for first aid at work can vary from first aid kits to fully qualified and appointed first aid staff. All details should be made readily available by the employer for all members of staff. Clarity of information and procedures is essential for this as much as for evacuation procedures.

8. PUWER - Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
Work equipment and machinery has to be fit for purpose particularly if it has been made to do a specific job for example in a production line. Whether you are using, purchasing, installing such equipment or making it, it is best to be aware of these regulations as prosecutions are not uncommon.

9. Maintenance
Maintaining your premises, equipment and resources properly can safe you a lot of time and money, but maintenance work itself comes with additional risks regardless of whether it is done by a contractor or your own staff. Best to be aware.

10. RIDDOR - Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
I hope you never have cause to report any such thing but be aware that serious workplace accidents and dangerous incidents by law have to be reported. To avoid confusion over what is a RIDDOR incident and what isn't either purchase or download the guide from the HSE. Accident books are good to run as they can help you with your overall Risk Assessment.

This is by no means the full list of things that the HSE cover and you really SHOULD check out what is relevant to you and your organisation regardless of whether you are a member of staff or an employer as both parties have responsibilities.

I would personally advocate every worker being trained in Risk Assessment and every employer being trained in assessing staff for competence - if only budgets and time would allow - there are plenty of companies and consultants that offer Risk Assessment training, just do a google search and pick one! I would strongly recommend you get trained if it is your own enterprise as it could save you a lot of time and money and it really isn't as complicated or difficult as it might sound.

Panic, stress and worry are all risks to health and safety so if in doubt ask the people who know - HSE.

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